The first series in the franchise to have an African-American and a woman as its marquee player, NatGeo’s Genius: Aretha is, like the title of its opening episode and the Queen of Soul herself, all about “Respect.”
Penned by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks, the pandemic-delayed premiere picks up with the Cynthia Erivo-portrayed Aretha Franklin performing a rousing rendition of “Chain of Fools” at triumphant 1967 show in Chicago before shifting the action to 1954 and the dangerous routes of rural Alabama. With threats and violence in the Jim Crow mists, we meet the pre-superstar Little Re (Shaian Jordan) and her preacher father CL Franklin (Courtney B. Vance) with a flat tire and two racists breathing down their sweaty necks.
The script for the opener of the eight-episode Genius: Aretha (read it below) is the latest installment of Deadline’s It Starts On the Page, a series that highlights the scripts serving as the creative backbone of the TV awards season. Published on the site over the past few weeks, they have all been submitted for Emmy consideration this year and selected using criteria that includes critical acclaim, a range of networks and platforms, and a mix of established and lesser-known shows.
Genius: Aretha debuted on March 21 in a four-night event presentation that ended the day before what would have been Franklin’s 79th birthday. Universally acknowledged as one of the greatest singers of all time, the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient passed away on August 16, 2018 in her long-adopted hometown of Detroit.
Along with Emmy, Grammy and Tony winner Erivo, Jordan, and Emmy winner Vance, the primarily Antony Hemingway-directed Genius: Aretha also stars David Cross as famed record producer Jerry Wexler, Kimberly Hébert Gregory as top talent agent Ruth Bowen, and Rebecca Naomi Jones as the superstar’s younger sister and frequent songwriting partner Carolyn Franklin. Steven Norfleet and Omar J. Dorsey also star in the limited series with T.I., Antonique Smith and Tina Fears in the cast in recurring roles.
Genius: Aretha saw Hemingway and Parks as EPs, with Imagine’s Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, iconic record executive Clive Davis, Atlantic Records chairman and CEO Craig Kallman, and the Franklin estate as producers
With that, read the “Respect” script here: